Jack settled on the bench in front of his locker and dug out his lunch bag. His pre-game warmup was finished, and it was snack time. He was looking forward to tonight's game -- everyone was healthy at the same time, for a change.
He had graduated from just throwing the sandwiches in his duffle to having a Falconers' lunch bag that protected the food from the equipment in the bag. It even had a thermos, to keep his skim milk cold. Well, he had it because Bitty had gotten it for him.
He had taken a single bite of his sandwich when Tater sat carefully next to him.
"Zimmboni, everything okay?" Tater asked softly.
Jack frowned, confused. He looked at his teammate. "Sure, everything's fine."
"You and B? You have fight?" Tater all but whispered. He put a warm hand on Jack's shoulder. "I listen, if you want."
"What? No! Everything is fine!" Jack found himself lowering his voice to match Tater's. "We have not had a fight." Jack whispered firmly. "What would make you think that?"
Tater waved his other hand toward Jack. "You have... sandwich not made by B. He makes lunch for you... prettier."
Jack looked down at the obviously lacking peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his hand. While it was -- supposedly -- whole wheat bread, it was obviously store bought. The bread was mashed in on one side, like something heavy had sat on the loaf, and jelly was leaking out of the bottom. There was a hole on one side where spreading the peanut butter had torn the fresh bread.
It was more than faintly sad looking, Jack realized. A bit of jelly dripped onto the floor. Damn! He had forgotten napkins. He reached for a towel to clean up the mess.
"What this? No! I made this myself!" Jack protested, waving the sandwich in his hand. Another blob of jelly hit the floor. With a sigh, he wiped that up.
"And?" Tater probed.
"Bitty's away for a couple of weeks, vising his family," Jack admitted. "He made me a batch of sandwiches before he left, but he didn't know how long he'd be gone. I've run out and have to make my own."
Tater made a sound of comfort, one that encouraged Jack to go on.
Jack lowered his voice even more. "Bitty's grandmother and his mother were sick, and Coach was running himself ragged trying to take care of both of them. So Bits went down to help." He shrugged. "You know how it is around here. If there's problems, everyone will pitch in, but Bitty didn't want to impose."
"MooMaw sick?" Tater exclaimed, eyes wide in alarm. "But no one tell me!"
Tater immediately went back to his own locker and dug his phone out of his bag. He dialed and jiggled nervously in place as it rang.
"MooMaw! Zimmboni not tell me you sick! How are you?" Tater asked softly, in spite of his obvious worry.
Tater listened carefully before replying, as Jack shamelessly listened in. "But not bother! Lapochka, you are family!"
Jack was bewildered. When did that happen, and how did he not know this?
"Is B taking good care of you?" Tater nodded at what he was being told. "Do you need anything else?"
Tater laughed. "Make sure B take care of himself! Okay? We not play tomorrow, call me any time!" With a warm take care, Tater hung up.
As Jack looked on, Tater turned and pointed at him. "You! You are to let me know when B needs help!"
Jack could only nod.
Tater scratched his head and then looked up at the clock. "No time now," he muttered. Jack guessed that Tater opened an app on his phone as he said, "Send flowers!"
Satisfied, Tater put his phone back into the bag.
"Ready to play?" Tater boomed.
Flowers? What? Should he be sending flowers? Suzanne? MooMaw? Both?
"Don't think so hard," Tater slung an arm around Jack. "Let's win this game first!"
Jack closed his eyes and took a centering breath. He was aware of Tater's arm around his shoulders, but he let the rest of the world wash away. He was here to focus on hockey, and that's what he was going to do.
It took a couple of focused breaths to let his confusion wash away, but Jack concentrated. One last breath.
"Okay, let's go!" he said to Tater.
Spirits were high in the locker room after the win. Tater had an assist on the winning goal in the last minutes of the game, adding to the noise level.
By the time Jack was through the shower and the press briefings, he was tired and hungry. Knowing Bitty wouldn't be there to greet him made him drag his feet a bit. Going home to an empty apartment was faintly depressing. Knowing that there wasn't a lot there to eat made it even worse.
"Come!" Tater called to Jack. "We get food! Celebrate win!"
Jack waved a hand. "Nah, thanks. Going to pick something up on the way and crash. You go without me."
"Not good to be alone," Tater dropped his voice, so only Jack could hear.
"Bits will be up, and waiting to talk," Jack admitted. "I know he's been putting in long days until recently, and I don't want to keep him waiting."
Tater grinned. "Then you tell B that Tater not happy no one tell him MooMaw was sick! And he owes me pie for that!"
Jack laughed. "There will be pie anyway!"
"Too true!" Tater agreed. "Good night!"
Jack picked up the burger and salad he had ordered and took it home. He changed into sleeping clothes and dropped tiredly onto the couch.
He texted Bitty. "You there?"
"Online now!" Came back immediately.
Jack launched the app and smiled when he saw Bitty.
"Be prepared!" Jack warned him. "Tater found out MooMaw was sick, and you're in lots of trouble!"
Bitty sighed. "That boy!"
Jack could only laugh.